Sermon on the Mount Lesson Eleven

How to Give – Matthew 6:1-4

Part eleven in my series on the Sermon on the Mount. This lesson will address giving the Jesus way.

6 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness  in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward!  But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Verse 1 serves as an introduction to the section 6:1-18 warning against acts of righteousness before men and losing your reward from God the Father in heaven.

It should also be noted that verse 1 does not contradict what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 as 6:1 is done for a selfish motive, and 5:16 is done to glorify God.

It’s also easy to forget that in Jesus’ time, there were no social welfare programs to help the poor, the widows, the orphans, or those who were sick. The programs that we take for granted were a void in the ancient world, often resulting in death to those who found themselves in one of the situations listed above. The Law addresses this back in Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy 15:11  For there will never cease to be poor people in the land;  that is why I am commanding you, ‘You must willingly open your hand to your afflicted and poor brother in your land.’

But the main thrust of the passage is Jesus warning against doing acts of kindness or charity for the wrong reason. Once again, it is the condition of the heart when taking action that is important. If a person’s motives for participating in charitable activities are to draw attention to themselves, then the only acknowledgment they will get is from other people, not God. The very act of public religious practices is dangerous, even if the original or intended motive is pure, as it is very easy to slide down the slippery slope and bask in the adulation and praise that may follow public acts of kindness. Churches or organizations that publicize the names of those who give should stop that practice. If their giving is from a pure heart, they won’t want their names revealed anyway. And if they do, maybe the church or organization should have a talk with them and refer to this passage. Although churches and organizations may wrestle with the idea of losing donors, possible large donors, by adopting this policy, it is the course prescribed by Scripture.

Let’s consider three reasons people give.

  • People may give from a sense of duty. They may give not because they wish to give, but because they feel that giving is a duty which they cannot easily escape.
  • People may give from motives of prestige. They may give to take for themselves the glory of giving.
  • People may give simply because they have to. They may give simply because the overflowing love and kindliness in their hearts will not allow them to do anything else.

Only the last reason is from a pure heart. Don’t get confused by the phrase “because they have to.” This compulsion comes from their heartfelt concern for others and not any selfish reason.

Another point that is not stated explicitly here but is implicit as it flows from the character of Jesus is the concept of sacrificial giving.

2 Cor 8:9-11  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ: Though He was rich,  for your sake He became poor,  so that by His poverty you might become rich. 10 Now I am giving an opinion on this because it is profitable for you, who a year ago began not only to do something but also to desire it. 11 But now finish the task  as well, that just as there was eagerness to desire it, so there may also be a completion from what you have.

In Judaism, there were three great works of religious life:

  • Almsgiving
  • Prayer
  • Fasting

Jesus will address all three of these topics in Matthew 6:1-18.

Let’s look at verses 2-4 as one bundle.

The word “when” implies that giving is expected; it’s not an optional act but a lifestyle. At the same time, Jesus was saying they shouldn’t act like the many in the temple and on the streets acted. The outward appearance looked like they were concerned for the needy, but they were actually looking for praise for they were doing. Jesus is condemning them for being motivated by the wrong reasons, seeking personal glory for their actions instead of giving glory to God.

In verse 3, Jesus says, “but when,” indicating a contrast between how His followers were to act and the false piousness of the hypocrites. Since God sees all that we do, even our publicly hidden acts of kindness will be noticed, who will reward us.

The reward that Jesus promises here follows the central theme of the Sermon on the Mount – the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. The rewards will lead to spiritual growth in this life and final perfection when we are resurrected.

While Jesus is encouraging generous giving, He is not advocating being irresponsible with an individual’s money. Stewardship of our financial situation is still expected.


  • First, if you don’t give, why is that? Giving falls into several areas.
    • Our offering to our church. If you belong to a local body of Christ, you should give an offering. Tithing is an Old Testament concept, but offerings are still
      • 2 Corinthians 8:12    For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
      • 2 Corinthians 9:11  You will be enriched in every way for all generosity, which produces thanksgiving to God through us. Note: This is not speaking of a prosperity Gospel.
      • Hebrews 13:16  Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.
    • Offering to charitable organizations. There are many that support orphans, widows, and medical needs, to name a few. Find one or more that tug on your heart to support.
    • Helping those in need we might meet in our daily lives. Examine each of these areas. This can be challenging as we never know when someone may be playing a game and aren’t really in need. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in those cases.
  • If you already give check, your motive for giving. I’ll re-list what I wrote above.
    • People may give from a sense of duty. They may give not because they wish to give, but because they feel that giving is a duty which they cannot easily escape.
    • People may give from motives of prestige. They may give to take for themselves the glory of giving.
    • People may give simply because they have to. They may give simply because the overflowing love and kindliness in their hearts will not allow them to do anything else.
    • If you are doing it for any reason other than the third one, ask for forgiveness and give from a pure heart and with pure motives.
  • If you see a brother or sister not giving or giving for the wrong reason, challenge them. This is never easy and may result in a strained or broken relationship. However, we are called to walk alongside our spiritual brothers and sisters and help them grow. Knowingly ignoring a situation where they are acting contrary to Scripture is also sin on our part.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Ten

Love Your Enemies – Matthew 5:43-48

Part ten in my discussion on the Sermon on the Mount is one of the more challenging messages…from the perspective of our human nature. How do we love someone when that person is anything but loveable, or they are outright antagonistic towards us?

43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those whopersecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (HCSB)

Jesus begins with His now familiar phrase, “You have heard that it was said.” Once again, Jesus is going to correct faulty thinking regarding Scripture and teach His followers the true meaning.

The first thing to note is that the phrase, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” is not entirely from Scripture. The first part comes from Leviticus 19:18b, “but love your neighbor as yourself.” However, the second part does not appear in the Old Testament. Some scholars point to various passages of Scripture as an implicit allowance for hating an enemy (Blomberg):

  • Deut 23:3-6  No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly. This is because they did not meet you with food and water on the journey after you came out of Egypt, and because Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram-naharaim was hired to curse you. Yet the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but He turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you. Never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live.
  • Deut 25:17-19  17 “Remember what the Amalekites did to you on the journey after you left Egypt. 18 They met you along the way and attacked all your stragglers from behind when you were tired and weary. They did not fear God. 19 When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Do not forget.
  • Psalm 139:21  Lord, don’t I hate those who hate You, and detest those who rebel against You?

When we succumb to our sinful, human nature, it is easy to believe and follow the second part of the quote.

What can be understood from Jesus’ stating, “You have heard that it was said,” is that the practice was accepted in Israel at that time.

However, a correct understanding of the term “neighbor” undermines the belief that “hate your enemy” is a proper attitude. Let’s look at three points to support this.

  • God loves all people. At the same time, it is true that God will judge and punish the wicked, but that is not His first choice. God would prefer that all surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and be obedient followers.
  • A proper understanding of Luke 10:25-37 will lead us to conclude that every person we come in contact with is our neighbor. There are no enemies.
  • Matthew 22:34-40  We are to love others the same as we love ourselves.

The proper conclusion is that we are to extend love to everyone.

But what kind of love is Jesus talking about? There are four different Greek words for love found in the New Testament.

  • Eros – sensual or romantic love
  • Storge – love for family members
  • Philia – love that unites fellow believers
  • Agape – God’s love for humanity

Jesus is talking about agape love here. This is an unexplainable love that exists entirely apart from the possibility of being loved back. Where do we see this love? Where is it demonstrated? The answer is that we see it only in Jesus Christ and in His sacrifice on the cross. A review of New Testament passages will reveal that in almost all instances that talk about God’s love, there is also an explicit or implicit reference to the cross.

  • John 3:16 God’s love and the sacrifice on the cross.
  • Galatians 2:20 Paul being crucified with Christ and Jesus’ love.
  • 1 John 4:10  God loving us sending Jesus to atone for our sins.
  • Romans 5:8  God demonstrating love for us and Jesus’ death on the cross.

What is so amazing about Jesus’ sacrifice is that He did it for sinners like me and you, true agape love.

Looking at verse 45, we see that God provides common grace to all people. All of His creation is worthy of care. God desires the evil and unrighteous, the tax collector, and the Gentiles (understood as pagans) to become children in the spiritual family of God. This doesn’t take away from the fact that each of us will stand before the throne of judgment and be held accountable for their life.

Verses 46-47 present a bridge from the beginning of the passage to the final verse. In essence, if we love those who love us and treat us well, we are no different than any lost person in the world. If we act like that, nobody will discern that we are followers of Jesus.

Verse 48 presents a challenge. How are we to be perfect just as God the Father?

Jesus used teleios, a Greek word that means “having reached its end, mature, complete, perfect.” The goal for the kingdom servant is to behave like his Father, and to reach the mature level of supernatural transformation (Weber). To put it in another way, the Greek idea of perfection is functional. A thing is perfect if it fully realizes the purpose for which it was planned, designed, and made. A thing is teleios if it achieves the purpose for which it is intended; human beings are perfect if they achieve the purpose for which they were created and sent into the world (Barclay).

As we reflect on our journey to perfection, we should examine Philippians 1:6, I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

When we think about what this passage says, we must remember that God’s Word is true, and He never changes. God will complete what He has begun. All true believers of Jesus will undergo a process of perfection, although it won’t be complete until we are resurrected in our new bodies.

Jesus is saying that the Law has never pointed to legal restraints, shortcomings from our hardened hearts, or even the law of love. It has always pointed to God’s perfection, as demonstrated by this first part of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the perfection that followers of Jesus must obey if they are true disciples.

We enter into Christ’s perfection when we learn to forgive as God forgives, unconditionally, and learn to love as God loves, unconditionally.

How do we apply this passage to our lives?

  • As hard as it is, and it is, we are called to love all people. When I look around me, and at the news from around the world, it is clear that mankind, including many Christians, fall far short of this standard. At times I am as guilty as anyone. Do we really love others regardless of how different they are from us? It doesn’t matter our skin color, country of origin, ethnicity, gender, social status, wealth, I could go on and on. Jesus is weeping over the hatred on prominent display around the world. We can either get sucked up in this spiral of hatred, or we can be a vehicle for change. Which will you be?
  • Are we really different from the lost in the world? If someone who didn’t know you could observe you secretly for one or two weeks, would they come to the conclusion that you are a Christian? Do an honest assessment of yourself. You may not like what you discover. But, discovering it means you can work on fixing it. Not in your strength, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. Look back on the early church, especially the Book of Acts. Walking in the strength of the Holy Spirit was the difference. Let’s do the same.
  • Don’t be discouraged by setbacks. At the same time, don’t give up in despair. If you are a faithful follower of Jesus, God will complete the work He started in you.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Nine

Go the Second Mile – Matthew 5:38-42

Part nine in our journey through the Sermon on the Mount. This lesson covers Matthew 5:38-42.

38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (HCSB)

In verse 38, Jesus is referencing several Old Testament passages that address this idea:

  • Exodus 21:24  eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot
  • Leviticus 24:19-20  19 If any man inflicts a permanent injury on his neighbor, whatever he has done is to be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Whatever injury he inflicted on the person, the same is to be inflicted on him.
  • Deuteronomy 19:21  You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.

These passages are often used to, incorrectly, support the idea that portions of the Old Testament were bloodthirsty, savage, and merciless. However, that is misunderstanding the intent of the passages. Let’s consider four points before we proceed.

  • The law of tit for tat, known as lex talionis, is actually showing mercy as it intended to limit retribution. In ancient tribal societies, if one man injured a man from another tribe, it was expected that the tribe suffering injury would take vengeance on all the members of the offending tribe. The passages above direct punishment no greater than the original offense.
  • No law ever gave the right to private individuals to enact punishment. It was for official court proceedings. This is contained in Deuteronomy 19:15-21  15 “One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. 16 “If a malicious witness testifies against someone accusing him of a crime, 17 the two people in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and judges in authority at that time. 18 The judges are to make a careful investigation, and if the witness turns out to be a liar who has falsely accused his brother, 19 you must do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from you. 20 Then everyone else will hear and be afraid, and they will never again do anything evil like this among you. 21 You must not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.
  • In a civilized society, the law was never carried out literally. The Jewish jurists argued rightly that to carry it out literally might, in fact, be the reverse of justice, because it might involve the displacement of a good eye or a good tooth for a bad eye or a bad tooth. Jewish law in the tractate Baba Kamma carefully lays down how the damage is to be assessed. If a man has injured another, he is liable on five counts—for injury, for pain, for healing, for loss of time, and for indignity suffered. In actual practice, the type of compensation that the lex talionis levied is strangely modern.
  • Possibly most important is that the lex talionis is not the summation of Old Testament ethics (Barclay). There are passages of great mercy in the Old Testament:
    • Leviticus 19:18  Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
    • Proverbs 25:21  If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat,
      and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
    • Proverbs 24:29  Don’t say, “I’ll do to him what he did to me; I’ll repay the man for what he has done.”
    • Lamentations 3:30  Let him offer his cheek to the one who would strike him; let him be filled with shame.

Now that the historical and cultural background is set let’s dive further into the passage. Jesus begins with His now-familiar comment, “But I tell you…” meaning He will clarify the misunderstanding in interpreting the relevant passage. In light of the prevailing ethical thought of the period, Jesus contrasts radically with most others of His day in stressing the need to decisively break the natural chain of evil action and reaction that characterizes human relationships.

Jesus’ disciples are not to think first about retribution. Even when they are being abused, they must think of ways to advance the kingdom of heaven and its influence on this earth.

Jesus uses four illustrations, one each in verses 39-42, from the everyday life of His disciples under oppression to emphasize how they can serve those who offend them. Their ultimate goal is to seek “an opportunity for the enemy to be converted to the truth of God’s kingdom. (Wilkins)”

The term for resist in verse 39 is antistenai and was often used in legal discussions.

  • Isaiah 50:8  The One who vindicates Me is near; who will contend with Me? Let us confront each other. Who has a case against Me? Let him come near Me!
  • 1 Cor 6:7  Therefore, to have legal disputes against one another is already a moral failure for you. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?

Jesus is talking about, in a broad sense, not taking revenge on someone who wrongs you. However, there are times we are to resist evil.

  • James 4:7  Therefore, submit to God. But resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
  • 1 Peter 5:9  Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.

Verse 39 is not support for Christians to subject themselves or others to physical danger or abuse, nor does it have a direct bearing on the pacifism/just war debate (Blomberg).

Another cultural understanding of the concept of slapping someone on the face sheds further light on this verse. Since most people are right-handed, the best way to slap another on the right side of their face was with a back-handed slap from the offender’s right hand. According to Rabbinical law, to hit a man with the back of your hand was considered twice as insulting as striking with the palm of your hand. The message here is no matter how degrading the insult, a follower of Christ is not to react to the insult.

The second illustration, verse 40, is in a legal setting. Understanding verse 40 requires an understanding of the basic clothing of someone living at that time. It consisted of a loincloth, covered by one or more body-length shirt(s), the outer cloak, a girdle acting as a belt, a head covering, and sandals. The “shirt” (chiton) was the basic garment, a long-sleeved inner robe similar to a nightshirt that a person wore next to the skin. Jesus instructs His disciples that if someone tries to sue for their shirt, they should let him have their “coat” (himation) as well. The coat was the outer robe, which was an indispensable piece of clothing (Wilkins).

The third illustration, verse 41, is a military scene. Israel was subject to something that most of us will never face, an occupying force controlling their nation. The one mile refers to the practice of the Roman soldiers requiring civilians to carry their burden for one mile. By Roman law, the soldier could require no more than one mile of a single porter, but Jesus’ kingdom servants, representing the gracious spirit of their King, are to go beyond what is required of them (Weber).

The fourth illustration, verse 42, is talking about the bothersome people in our lives. These people exist in two forms. The first is the one who “asks.” The Greek word, aiteo, is talking about a poor person who is begging for alms. The second, the who wants to “borrow,” may also indicate someone who is poor. The Greek word is danizo and is also used in Luke 6:34 for someone who is not able to repay the loan. However, giving should never be done in such a way as to encourage laziness or a sense of entitlement. In the long run, that type of giving hurts the recipient. It should always be done in a way to help the individual get back on their feet and become productive.

When we view these four illustrations together, it is easy to see the contrast between what the world views as personal “rights” and what Jesus is calling His followers to pursue as “righteous responsibilities.” Followers of Jesus need to set-aside four “rights” that the world holds dear.

  • The right of retaliation.
  • The right to our “things” or possessions.
  • The right of our time.
  • The right of our money. This may be the single greatest measurement of the depth of our walk with Jesus.

I purposely used the word “our” in three of the above “rights.” In reality, none of those are “ours.” They are God’s to be used for His glory and to further His Kingdom.

How do we apply this passage to our lives?

  • We need to set aside our perceived “rights” and live a life of servitude and sacrifice based upon “righteous responsibilities.”
  • At the same time, we should stand firm on matters of principle and for the rights of others.
    • Acts 16:37  But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out!”
    • Acts 22:25  As they stretched him out for the lash, Paul said to the centurion standing by, “Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?”
    • Acts 25:8-12  while Paul made the defense that, “Neither against the Jewish law,nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I sinned at all.” Then Festus, wanting to do a favor for the Jews,replied to Paul, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem, there to be tried before me on these charges?” 10 But Paul said: “I am standing at Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as even you can see very well.11 If then I am doing wrong, or have done anything deserving of death, I do not refuse to die, but if there is nothing to what these men accuse me of, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar!” 12 After Festus conferred with his council, he replied, “You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you will go!”
  • If we are insulted, regardless of how humiliating, we need to move on and not strike back. That is easier said than done, but that is precisely what Jesus did as He walked obediently to the cross.
  • We should not enter into legal disputes, especially with other Christians.
  • Always do your best in whatever task you undertake. Don’t do it with a grumpy attitude and, if possible, do more than the bare minimum. Col 3:23  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.
  • Be generous with your finances. It is better to help twenty fraudulent beggars than risk turning away the one person in real need. Rabbinical law laid out five principles of giving:
  • Giving must not be refused.
    • Giving must befit the person to whom the gift is given.
    • Giving must be carried out privately and secretly.
    • The manner of giving must befit the character and the temperament of the recipient.
    • Giving was at once a privilege and an obligation, for, in reality, all giving is nothing less than giving to God.

Sermon on the Mount Lesson Eight

The Truth About Oaths – Matthew 5:33-37

This is the eighth part of the series as we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount, covering Matthew 5:33-37.

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to our ancestors,  You must not break your oath, but you must keep your oaths to the Lord. 34 But I tell you, don’t take an oath at all: either by heaven, because it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, because it is His footstool; or by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither should you swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 But let your word ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’  Anything more than this is from the evil one. (HCSB)

Before digging into the passage itself, we need to define one term and understand how it was interpreted in 1st century Israel and why Jesus is focusing on it in this passage.

Oath – A solemn vow or promise to fulfill a pledge. Any breach of one’s undertaking affirmed by an oath would be attended by a curse. An example is the Lord affirmed that he had established a covenant and a curse with Israel; that is, a breach of the covenant would be followed by a curse (Elwell).

Deuteronomy 29:14-15 14 I am making this covenant and this oath not only with you, 15 but also with those who are standing here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not here today.

The oath was a manner of guaranteeing a promise in Israelite society and the ancient Near East. The parties of the covenant invoked their deity, or deities, to witness the agreement, then bound themselves with specific sanctions, curses and blessings, symbolized by melting substitutionary wax figures or cutting animals in half, as seen in 1 Samuel 11:7  He took a team of oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent them throughout the land of Israel by messengers who said, “This is what will be done to the ox of anyone who doesn’t march behind Saul and Samuel.” As a result, the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they went out united.

Oath-taking became quite complicated in intertestamental Judaism. The system of binding vows was so complicated as to allow the initiator to deceive anyone not familiar with the system. The net result was that the oath became a primary means of defrauding outsiders, hence Jesus’ condemnation of the system as examined in this passage (Myers).

This may seem like a long-winded discourse on the definition of an oath, but since it is the main point of the passage, it is important that we completely understand the setting and circumstances that Jesus is addressing here.

In various places in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reminding the Jews about things they should already know or understand. That applies to this passage. The Jewish teachers had always insisted on the paramount obligation of telling the truth. The Rabbis had various saying about the obligation of telling the truth.

  • The world stands fast on three things, on justice, on truth, and on peace.
  • Four persons are shut out from the presence of God—the scoffer, the hypocrite, the liar, and the retailer of slander.
  • One who has given his word and who changes it is as bad as an idolater (Barclay).

This is especially true if the truth was guaranteed by an oath. Exodus 20:7 – Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name. This verse is not talking about the use of bad language. Instead, it is talking about breaking an oath promised in the name of Yahweh. Numbers 30:2 When a man makes a vow to the Lord or swears an oath to put himself under an obligation, he must not break his word; he must do whatever he has promised.

Jesus was speaking not against oaths themselves but against the abuses of oaths and the corresponding abuse of the truth that went with them. We see this most clearly when we look in the broadest way at the positive teaching about oaths throughout Scripture. In the Law, the Jews were instructed to make oaths in the name of Yahweh. Deuteronomy 10:20 You are to fear Yahweh your God and worship Him. Remain faithful to Him and take oaths in His name.

We also read where Yahweh took oaths. The Abrahamic Covenant is an example. God promised that the land would be Abrahams’ and would belong to his seed forever.

What Jesus is talking about is a two-fold situation that had become commonplace in 1st century Israel.

  • Taking an oath when it was neither necessary nor proper. People who did this swore by their life or any other “thing.” The result was that even the most solemn statements appeared to be on this level also. It was exactly as if a servant who lived in the household of an honorable state official should go around talking about the honorable house, the honorable chair, the honorable mop, or the honorable dishpan. His speech would then have much less meaning when he called the lord of the house, “your honor.” In opposition to this, Jesus often insisted, as many of the rabbis did also, that the use of an oath to substantiate a simple statement was wrong.
  • The second perversion of the proper use of oaths by the people of Christ’s time was worse. It was evasive swearing. People who were afraid to swear by the name of the Lord because they were not telling the full truth began to swear by things, and because mere things were not thought to be as significant as the name of God, this second class of oaths was not considered to be binding. Some persons swore by:
    • Their own life 1 Samuel 1:26  Please, my lord,” she said, “as sure as you live,  my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.
    • Their health Psalm 15:4  who despises the one rejected by the Lord but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his word whatever the cost.
    • Others swore by the king 1 Sam. 17:55 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know you are a man of God  and the Lord’s word from your mouth is true.”
    • Others swore, as Jesus indicates, by their head, the earth, heaven, the temple, or Jerusalem, Matthew 5:34–36.
    • All such oaths were evasive (Boice).

Yahweh hates false oaths.

  • Zechariah 8:17  Do not plot evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and do not love perjury, for I hate all this”—this is the Lord’s declaration.
  • Ecclesiastics 5:5  Better that you do not vow than that you vow and not fulfill it.

What is Jesus talking about in the last verse, the reference to the evil one? There are likely two ways to view this.

  • If it is necessary to take an oath from someone, that necessity arises from the evil that is in the individual. If there were no evil in that person, an oath wouldn’t be necessary. The fact that it is sometimes necessary to make someone take an oath is a demonstration of the evil in Christless human nature.
  • The fact that it is necessary to make people take an oath in certain situations comes from the fact that this is an evil world. In a perfect world, in a world which was the kingdom of God, no taking of oaths would be necessary. It is necessary only because of the evil in the world.

What Jesus is saying is this, a truly good person will never need to take an oath; the truth of the sayings and the reality of the promises of that person doesn’t need a guarantee. But the fact that oaths are still necessary is the proof that people are not good and that this is not a good world. This places two obligations upon the Christian.

  • To make ourselves such that others will so see our transparent goodness that they will never ask an oath from us.
  • To seek to make this world such a world that falsehood and infidelity will be so eliminated from it that the necessity for oaths will be abolished (Barclay).

Jesus is addressing here, as He does in many places of Scripture, an issue with our hearts. Jesus understands the deceitfulness of the human heart, for people sometimes invoked an oath in order to conceal an attempt to deceive. By contrast, Jesus’ disciples should be people of such integrity of character and truthfulness of heart that whatever they say is absolutely believable and dependable. A person of integrity is one who, in daily conversation, is so truthful, dependable, genuine, straightforward, and reliable that his or her words are believed without an oath.

Jesus’ point is that a disciple’s simple word should be considered as trustworthy as a signed document or contract. When he goes further to suggest that “anything beyond this is evil,” Jesus indicates that swearing by something in order to deceive can only have one source—the evil one, Satan (Wilkins).

How do we apply this passage to our lives?

  • Examine our lives. Are we truthful and trustworthy? If not, we need to start there and change our behavior.
  • Do we trust our Christian brothers and sisters? If not, is it because of something they did previously? If that is true, we need to discuss that with them to clear the air.
  • Our lives and words should confirm our trustworthiness and preclude the need to make promises to our Christian brothers and sisters.
  • Our internal “heart condition” will manifest itself in our external action. There is an indestructible link between the two. Obedience to Jesus and His teachings will shape our heart condition, which in turn will lead to a fruitful life. If you are not producing fruit have you done a heart examination lately?